Jan 30

Garden Planning – Using Visuals

Gardening Jones shares how she plans out the gardens each year.

Gardeners know the winter months are made more bearable by planning for the upcoming gardening seasons.

We like to use visuals to get a feel for what we will plant. It also is a great way to remember for the following year, in case some crop rotation is needed.

Usually we start out with a spreadsheet. Years ago we used to draw the gardens by hand, but since we often make changes even at planting time, we found planning on the computer easier.

This is an Excel spreadsheet, but any one would do. You could also use a word document.

To set up your spreadsheet:

1. Draw the basic garden design using borders and/or fill colors over the cells.
2. Type in any perennials.
3. Add in any perennials you will be planting this year.
4. If you plan to use this program for multiple years, copy your basic diagram and save to another sheet.
5. Rename your sheets accordingly.
6. Add in your annuals.
7. Notate any succession planting you intend to do.
8. You can also add in your transplanting and seed sowing dates.

Pretty basic stuff really. As the weather gets warmer and we have seedlings about ready, we write in the specific varieties that had not be noted yet. We like to print out the sheet when we begin to plant, to make sure we plant the specific variety we are supposed to.

Sometimes we will add in anything unusual, like a new bug infestation. Bllck.

We keep our printed sheets in a binder. It is fun to see how the gardens have changed over time. 2017 will be the 21st. garden at this house.

Of course, like everything else nowadays, there are aps for this. Here are a few to consider.

My Dad is in his 90's, and although very tech savvy, he still uses a pencil and graph paper.
After 30 years of growing, spreadsheet is about as modern as I care to get. :-)

More on succession planting.

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Jan 23

12 Random Things to Know About Saving Seeds

how to save seeds

  1.  Let cucumbers get over ripe, even turn yellow, before saving the seeds.
  2. Know that veggies can only cross with their same species. So a zucchini might cross with a pumpkin, both are C. pepo, but not with a hubbard squash, C. moschata. More on that here.
  3. Tomatoes can cross pollinate, but it is much less likely than squash. The same holds true for their relatives, eggplants and peppers. These plants usually provide their own pollination.
  4. Beans and peas self-pollinate as the flowers open up. Let the seeds inside dry, and you are good to go.
  5. The seeds found in the first tomato on the plant are the same as the last tomato. So don't worry about trying to keep the best one for its seeds.
  6. Know that parsnips and carrots are perennial plants, and will only provide you with seeds the next year if they survive your winter. We're still pulling out parsnips from this experiment.
  7. Many people freeze seeds, but we don't. Once they are dry, we just store in a container that allows for air-flow, like a plain envelope. This also keeps them in the dark. We use a room that is only minimally heated.
  8. If you have a critter problem like mice, you will need to store in a metal or glass container. In this case, add a silica desiccant packet to keep your seeds dry. You can get them fairly cheap online. You can also use rice or powdered milk, just keep an eye on it.
  9. Be sure to date your seeds. Most seeds will last for years. Here's a list of the very minimum storage times. Many gardeners have successfully used seeds much older. Here's our take.
  10.  As seeds age, their germination rate lowers. This just means that they may not all sprout as they would if they were only from last year. If you have an abundance, you can check their germination rate yourself. Simply place 10 or more seeds in a paper towel or napkin, and keep it warm and moist. See how many seeds sprout. If the percentage is low, plant more than you would normally.
  11. You can get seeds on the cheap from the grocery store. Dry beans and un-roasted peanuts are two examples. Buy them once and you'll have seeds forever.
  12. Most commercial squash is grown in large fields, so there is less chance of cross pollination than you would have in your garden. We suggest you buy a winter type squash, and remove the seeds before cooking. This is another cheap way to get a lot of seeds. We buy Fenugreek seeds in bulk for sprouting, and then use some of those seeds in the garden.
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Jan 13

13 Varieties of Sweet Peppers


Gardening Jones shares some varieties of sweet peppers you may want to check out.

We haven't tried all these sweet peppers yet, but thought we would share what got our attention. Note that we are not affiliated with the companies we have linked. We just added those in case you wanted to get a look at the fruit.

Note the DTM or Days to Maturity are for transplants. HL stands for heirloom and would include open pollinated plants. F1 refers to any hybrid.

Variety HL or F1 Color Size DTM Notes
Cornito Giallo F1 Orange 5" 75 AAS Winner
Sheepnose Pimento HL Red 3-4" 70-80 Very thick wall
White Cloud HL White - Redish Orange Average 70 Container
Gypsy F1 Yellow - Red 4" Tapers 60-70 AAS Winner
Baby Belle F1 Green - Red 2" 80 Container
Horizon HL Orange Average 75-80
Purple Beauty HL Purple Average 75 Turns green when cooked
Chinese Giant HL Red 5-6" 80 Thin fruit for largest peppers
Sunbright HL Yellow Average 70
Early Sunsation F1 Yellow 4-5" 70
Red Belt F1 Red 5-6" 60-70 Tapered bell
Sweet Pickle HL Multi-colored 2" 65-70 Container
Red Majesty F1 Red Average 80

Learn more:

Do's and Don'ts of Growing Peppers
What Days to Maturity really means.

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Oct 30

Chef’s Choice Green Tomato

Gardening Jones shares her experience trialing the All America Select winner Chef's Choice Green Tomato.

Chef's Choice Green


Chef's Choice Green is another in the line of wonderful AAS winning hybrid tomatoes. We tried Orange also, read about that here.


We really liked the taste, very homegrown tomato much like any good red variety. But the color lends itself to more interesting dishes than the typical tomato recipes.

Please note that if you intend to process ripe green tomatoes to use a recipe for red tomatoes, not one meant for unripe green tomatoes such as some Salsa Verde recipes. The reason is the acid level in a ripe green tomato is different from that of an unripe tomato. Since acid is what is helping the fruit stay safe it is important to be sure. We combined the orange and green varieties for delightful salsa that's both pretty ans tasty.

So anyway we found this variety to be our third to ripen, about 3 months after transplanting, and quite prolific. It is an indeterminate variety, producing 8-10 ounce fruits right up until frost. It held up pretty well to our early blight, better than others, and is resistant to Tomato Mosaic Virus as well as a few other diseases.

Gardening Jones shares her experience with the AAS winner Chef's Choice Tomato.

Photo by All-America Select

One of the most common questions we get asked is how to tell when a green variety of tomato is ripe. As you can see in the picture above, Chef's Choice Green gets yellow shoulders upon ripening. Of course you can also tell by squeezing the fruit, but this visual is much easier.

We are looking forward to testing the Pink this summer. Some of our fellow gardeners tell us they feel that variety has the best flavor. No sense just taking their word for it. 😉

We'll be sure to let you know our opinion.





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Oct 23

7 Random Gardening Tips

Gardening Jones shares a few gardening tips, including info on making these Tomato Shooters.

Wash, stem, and soak.

Here are a handful of gardening tips to help make your experience just a little more successful, and therefore, enjoyable:

  1. Your tomatoes can still ripen on the vine even when frost threatens them. Simply dig them up, trim off the dirty end or wash, and hang the plants upside down in a warm area. They will ripen slowly and taste almost as good as if they ripened in the sun,
  2.  Avoid dealing with Squash Vine Borers by planting varieties that don't have hollow stems, like any found in the species C. moschata. We intend to try some new ones this year, including Organic Pilgrim, Organic Texas India Moschata, Chirimen, and Honeynut. Learn more about these varieties here. Here are some more C. moschata you might like. If you have a long enough growing season, you can plant your squash a little later after the threat has subsided.
  3.  You can help prevent cutworm damage by placing paper or cardboard collars around the bases of you plants at planting time. You can make them from sturdy paper, or simply cut down paper towel or bath tissue tubes to size. Push them into the soil slightly. Later in the season they can be removed if need be, If you have never had cutworms, lucky you! They can do a lot of damage eating through the stems of young plants in a very short period of time,
  4. Plan on succession planting, especially if your season is limited. Following one crop with another increase your yield dramatically. Be sure to replenish your soil, and take into consideration any disease or pest issues. It might be hard to find plants later in the season, so learning how to start seeds is a good idea. In the long run, it will save you money as well.
  5. Similarly, know which crops can take the cold and either plant them early, or later in the season, to extend your growing time. Carrots, for example, can be harvested until the ground freezes. Some greens, like mache aka corn salad, can survive most winters.
  6. Good organic compost is essential to plant growth. Too many gardeners over-fertilize, when all they really needed was some well balanced compost. A healthy soil will have lots of little life forms in it, and smell healthy. If your soil looks dead, it probably is.
  7. Check out alternative ways to preserve your produce in addition to canning and freezing. Pictured above are tiny tomatoes soaking in alcohol. They can be used as a adult beverage garnish, or if cooked the alcohol will burn off. Similarly we make our own extracts. Here's more on that.

More Gardening Tips

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Sep 04

Chef’s Choice Orange Tomato

Gardening Jones shares her thoughts on the AAS Winner Chef's Choice Orange Tomato.

Artisan style pizza with orange marinara? Multi-color Tomato Salad?

Yep, You Can Grow That!

This is the first time we have ever grown an orange tomato, hard to believe I know. So we cannot compare it to another orange type, but just share our thoughts.

We love this 2014 All America Selection for a number of reasons:

  1. It was one of our earlier maturing tomatoes, coming in even before the San Marzano.
  2. The plants held up pretty well to the Septoria that developed in the beds. Not all the other plants did, some even developed spots on the fruit. Yuk.
  3. The fruit is a decent size, and pretty meaty. Ours ranged from 10-14 ounces each.
  4. Quite productive, and still going strong even in September.
  5. The flavor is delightful. It has the taste of a tomato of course, but then again not. Difficult to describe, it is much milder than a typical red tomato, but certainly not bland; sweet and less acidic.
  6. The flat shape lends itself perfect for slicing.
  7. Didn't crack like some of the varieties we are growing.

We added it to a colorful salsa and the orange color held up well. We're going to keep the remainder of the crop to make an interesting marinara. I can just picture the pizza with brightly colored red peppers, black olives, and green onions. Yum.

The Chef's Choice Tomatoes also come in green and pink varieties. Soon we will be reviewing the green, and plan on trying the pink next summer. One of our social media friends says the pink is also well worth the try.

Days to Maturity: 75 from transplants

Height: 5 Ft.

Habit: Indeterminate

Fruit Size: 10-16 ounces

Heritage: F1 hybrid of an Amana Orange

you can grow that is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage everyone to get growing.



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Aug 19

The Watermelon Radish

Gardening Jones shares her take on this pretty radish variety.

It is always fun to try new veggie varieties. We enjoy seeing how they actually look compared to stock photos, if there is a difference in taste, learning about where they came from, and sharing all of that with you.

Also known as Chinese Red Meat radish, this is a variety of Daikon radish from China with a lovely pinkish interior.

These grow smaller than the more common white icicle radish, getting to be about 3-4". We learned the hard way that they are better as a fall crop; ours ended up quite spicy. Stii the sweetness of the flesh could also be detected, and these did not go to waste.

We also learned that to get the outer skin to be green, the veggies need exposure to the sun. Similar to a potato, except this is okay for the radish. Ours were in among beets which offered a nice shade, probably preventing the radishes from bolting, but keeping the outer skins more white than green.

It is the green skin coupled with the reddish-pink flesh that give it its nickname.

So we are going to sow some more in an open area and see if the cooler temps to come will make these beauties sweeter. Their days to maturity from direct seed are about 50, perfectly bringing them into the cool October days for maturing.

Note that even in cooler areas like our Zone 5/6, radishes can be seeded well into October for harvesting in December. They can take some cold, just be sure to mulch them so they don't get hit with repeated freezing temperatures.

Now, we'll have to see how long we can keep a fresh supply coming in. Just for the fun of it.


Sweet Pickled Onion and Watermelon Radish Salad

Common Radish Growing Problems

Radish Variety Comparison Chart

How to Grow Radishes

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Aug 12

Too Many Tomatoes? Bite Your Tongue!

Gardening Jones share a few things you can do when the weight of your tomatoes is more than the plant can bear.

So we're having a really great tomato season here in the northeast.
Really great.

We protect our crop from squirrels, and in spite of the overabundance of insects caused in part by the mild winter, we haven't had one, knock on wood, tomato horn worm.

The mild temps did bring about a few bad bugs that caused issues for other crops, but that's another story.

Back to the tomatoes. We planted a lot this year in hopes of stocking the larder shelves. Many of the varieties we chose were well rated for being abundant. Like the BHN-589 shown above from Johnny's Select Seeds.

Notice anything in the picture?

The two tomatoes are so heavy that the stem is bent over.

We also have a number of plants that simply could not support the weight of the fruit, and the main stems bent.

Mind you all 80+ of our plants are well staked. At least, we thought so, and for many years, it was enough.

Gardening Jones share a few things you can do when the weight of your tomatoes is more than the plant can bear.

In the picture above is a plant I refer to as Survivor because it was the only one of about a dozen unmarked plants that did not succumb in last spring's learn-how-hot-greenhouses-can-get-the-hard-way lesson.

It is a beautiful roma type we saved the seeds from, and it is paying us back big time this year.

So much so that the stem bent and began to rip. We gently laid the plant down on the straw mulch, and secured the stem with some flexible duct tape.

Another option would be to just let the plant be if the stem isn't damaged, you can just let it hang where it is and harvest the fruit like you would normally.

You can also pick some of the tomatoes that are closest to being ripe. Try to choose ones that are already starting to change color if you can. Where possible, clip off the entire stem and let them ripen that way.

So far we haven't had to harvest anything not yet ripe, but we are keeping a close eye on them. In the next 2 weeks much of the crop will be about ready anyway. We think our plants will hold on that long. Especially Survivor.

Yes, too many tomatoes is a very good problem to have.

More on growing tomatoes.

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Aug 11

BS Belongs in the Garden

In preparation for launching the much anticipated Seeds to Soap Club featuring our handmade soaps, we have been watching video, attending webinars, and reading up on best practices. Needless to say the focus is how to sell, sell, sell.

While we are sure these are all wonderful and effective marketing strategies, we prefer to look at this from your perspective. No gimmicks, no cons or tricks, just the best soaps we can make, a fair price for everyone, and as many freebies as we can get our grubby little hands on to add to the fun.

Gardening Jones' Seed to Soap Club does more than just get you clean, we are good for your skin and your spirit.

Good For Your Skin and Your Spirit

So here's the deal:

We will ship every other month beginning the end of September. Each box will contain at least 2 full size bars we make ourselves one small batch at a time. And yes, they are shaped like seed packets. :-) Most of these bars will be made exclusively for club members.

You will also get other stuff like free samples, guest size bars, other bath products and so on. These are not shown in the photo above, but will be fun surprises that you won't know about until you open your box.

The price will be $15 per box shipping included* no matter if you sign up for 1 box or 1 year. If you do sign up for 6 months or 1 year, you will get some additional free soap.

Members will also receive 10% off anything else we list in our online store. All club soaps are gender neutral and vegan friendly. Varieties that are Just for Him or contain milk will be available in the store.

Feel free to cancel at any time for whatever reason.

Simple. Honest. You might say "Clean."

Want to pamper yourself for just 25 cents a day? Sign up here:

I want to try you out, please send me 1 box.

I'm in! Sign me up for 6 months (3 boxes). I also get one free exclusive Soap at an unannounced time. Woot woot!

Sock it to me! Sign me up for a full year (6 boxes). I also get one free full Box of exclusive soaps as a surprise. Yes!

Please Note: To receive our first shipment, you will need to sign-up by September 10th.

If purchasing a Gift Subscription, just indicate recipient in the message box at checkout.

*Shipping is to the continental US only. For other areas, additional shipping may apply.

Our Soaps are not just for gardeners, please Share this post with your friends. We do appreciate it!

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Aug 02

0 to 60

Gardening Jones shares her personal effort to live healthier by her next birthday.

It was just about 2 months ago that I shared with y'all my intentions on improving my health before my 60th. birthday. Nothing drastic, but there is always room to make things better.

I kind of like change.

Which is a very good thing this since about half way through the 60 days I got more change than I had expected. When my job unexpectedly lost me, I had to readjust.

Certainly this kind of life change could lead to regressing back to less than the best habits. I admit that it was harder than I would have thought and there were certainly days when I didn't even want to get out of bed. After all, it wasn't like I had to be anywhere.

Turns out there was no way I would not get over it, what with all the support I have. Y''all are the best.

So now I am 60 and compared to a year ago I weigh 10 pounds less, have taken inches off my body, and actually feel younger.

Much more importantly, I am now under significantly less stress and have the time to pursue a new direction. I feel more emotionally healthy than I was even just 2 months ago.

So if I have learned anything in my six decades it is this: The only thing we can really count on is change, so embrace it. Make it a point to have changes in your life, even if it is only rearranging furniture or buying a different brand of tea.

Like our bodies need exercise to stay strong, our  spirits do too. Change helps keep your spirit strong, and better able to handle life.

As the saying goes, the only difference between a rut and a grave is the length of the ditch.

Keep that spirit strong and happy gardening y'all! <3





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